Revival and the Primitive Methodists (1)
Just over 200 years ago, in 1812, the Primitive Methodist Connection was officially established. How did this powerful movement for revival come into being?
The earlier, Methodist revival of the eighteenth century had powerfully impacted society at large. Its call to repentance, emphasis upon the necessity of the new birth, insistence upon an assurance of sins forgiven and high standard of personal holiness were characteristic of the first Methodist societies.
However, towards the end of the century a change was taking place, which disturbed the original awakeners. In the mid-1760s John Wesley had complained: ‘It has been affirmed that none of our itinerant preachers are so much alive as they were seven years ago. I fear many are not … Do not you give way to unconcern, indolence and fear of man?’
And, in one of his letters written during 1765, George Whitefield stated: ‘Nothing is wanting at Bristol, London and elsewhere but labourers full of the first old methodistical spirit. But where to get them is the question. Those that are thus minded are almost worn out’.
In a sermon preached during this period Whitefield declared: ‘There are few who like to go out into the fields. Broken heads and dead cats are no longer the ornaments of the Methodist’.
Conversion had brought a new respectability to the Methodists, and they shunned the more earnest way of worship, prayer and even outdoor preaching.
A new wine, however, was to come into being. This movement would become known as Revivalism, and its main branches would be the Bible Christians, the United Methodists, the Quaker Methodists and, by far the largest, the Primitive Methodists.
Primitive Methodism sprang from the conversion of two men in particular — Hugh Bourne and William Clowes. These two men would introduce camp meetings similar to those used in America, and this would be the cause of their dismissal from their parent body, the Wesleyan Methodists.
The first camp meeting was held on the hill Mow Cop in North Staffordshire. From this humble beginning the work spread as far as the Scottish border in the north, Cornwall in the south, and westward as far as the Welsh border. Eventually it spread as far afield as Africa, Australia and Canada.
Today little remains to point to the glories of the past, save a few memorials, commemorative items and streets bearing such names as ‘Camp Street’ or ‘Camp Hill’, usually with a former Methodist building nearby. With PM’s demise came inevitable reconciliation with the main body of Methodism. That was in 1932.
The birthplace of Hugh Bourne on 3 April 1772 was Ford Hayes Farm in Stoke-on-Trent. In those days it was a solitary, obscure place. Hugh was of a shy and timid nature, and later he attributed this to his secluded childhood.
Both his parents came from good stock. From his mother he learnt the Te Deum, the Ten Commandments and parts of the Church of England Prayer Book.
Hugh said of his mother: ‘From her I received, under the Lord, my first religious impressions, and to her care I owe a great deal. We were a large family, and my father a drinking, violent, passionate man; but my mother’s industry and great labours kept the family from want’.
During these early years he had many religious convictions. He tried to please God as best he could, but lived for 20 years in a state of spiritual conflict. This led him in later years to look for instant conversions under every sermon and expect early childhood conversions.
Of this time he writes: ‘O that I had had someone to take me by the hand, to instruct me in the way of faith and the nature of a full, free, and present salvation — happy would it have been for me.
‘But I looked, and there was no eye to pity; I mourned, but there was no hand to help; I waited for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but I walked in darkness’.
But God was preparing Hugh Bourne for his life’s work and, during these years while working for his uncle in the millwright and engineering trade, he spent his spare moments in studying Hebrew, Greek, Latin and various branches of science.
One day, while his mother was on business in Burslem, she asked for the loan of a book for her personal use — a thick tome containing many tracts.
This included Fletcher’s Letters on the spiritual manifestations of the Son of God. One beautiful sunny Sunday morning Hugh began to read these and was led to ‘believe with his heart unto righteousness’.
Here is his own account of it: ‘The reading of Mr Fletcher’s letters on the spiritual manifestation of the Son of God was the means of leading me into faith. I believed in my heart, grace descended, and Jesus Christ manifested himself to me.
‘My sins were taken away in an instant, and I was filled with all joy and peace in believing … And when the rapturous joy had a little subsided, I felt a calm, settled peace upon my mind. I felt that sin had no power over me; but all my desires were after God and holiness’. This was in his 27th year, in 1799.
Hugh joined a Methodist class meeting near Burslem, together with his mother; and soon afterwards his brother James became a member. A deep concern for others led Hugh to speak about conversion first to the blacksmith, Mr Maxfield, and then to a cousin of his, Daniel Shubothom.
Hugh was burdened for Daniel. ‘I went home that night in sorrow. The travail in birth was heavy upon me. I had sorrow upon sorrow. I read, I prayed, I laboured. I laid down on my bed in sorrow’.
The next morning, which was Christmas Day 1800, Hugh left his house with a written account of his own conversion and set off for Daniel’s house. He describes their meeting. ‘As we walked together I explained to him the nature of justification by faith and the new birth; I preached the gospel to him with all my might.
‘I told him that Jesus Christ must be manifested to him or he would never be born again. I then parted with him in great sorrow, and spent that Christmas Day in sorrow, for I feared that he did not take sufficient notice of what I said’.
‘Flames of fire’
But Hugh was wrong, for later he learnt that Daniel ‘felt every word go through him’ and evidenced a true conversion. Both he and Daniel became like ‘flames of fire’. A new era had begun in the life of Hugh Bourne.
‘Daniel Shubothom set out for heaven with all his might’, he said, ‘and his doing so was attended with mighty consequences.
‘He proved a champion in the way. No difficulties could hinder him, neither could opposition stay him; and he took the same course with others as the Lord directed me to take with him. In ordinary conversation he preached Jesus and him crucified. He did this with a greater zeal than I had ever before witnessed’.
These two were soon joined by a third, Matthias Bayley, a converted collier. Of these three, Bourne says, ‘In our conversational way we preached the gospel to all — good, bad, rough, smooth — people were obliged to hear. And we soon had four other colliers under deep conviction of sin’.
The colliers found no liberty, however, and this troubled Bourne and his friends. One night Daniel and Matthias were talking together about this matter and felt they should pray, but neither had ever prayed aloud before and were fearful of doing so.
Matthias searched in vain through a prayer book to find some suitable prayers, and eventually remarked that when they had cried for pardon their prayers had been heard, so perhaps they should now plead in a similar way.
They began, and the Lord helped them. Shortly after this a prayer meeting was started at old Jane Hall’s home.
Bourne records, ‘The instant I began [praying], heaven opened on me and my course throughout was glorious. Grace and glory rested on me all the time I prayed. I may say the Lord on this occasion anointed me with the oil of gladness and fitted me to be a praying labourer. Daniel followed, and afterwards one who had fallen in with us from a distance’.
So the prayer meetings were established, and the four colliers found gospel liberty; three of them at the prayer meetings and one down a mine.
To be continued